The Over: Sri Lanka v England – Days 2 & 3

The usual daily update for yesterday rather went the way of England’s batting line-up in the first innings – it didn’t show up. Now that we’ve had a bit more time to do the whole blogging thing, here’s a composite of yesterday and today for your delectation:

It’s time to stop sweeping, put the broom away for good and buy a vacuum cleaner instead… or something like that. Anyway, England’s batsmen need to understand that the pre-meditated sweep is a relatively high risk shot that should be used sparingly, instead of, as it would appear they think it to be, a get-off-strike-free card. Two players in particular should banish the sweep to the far reaches of their repertoire – Strauss and Broad. Strauss because he’s never played the sweep well, having got out to it more times than we care to remember (more often than not by comically bottom-edging the ball into his boot, whereupon it kindly loops up for a close fielder to grab); Broad because he seems to get out LBW far more than is healthy, and when he does he almost always fruitlessly wastes a DRS review, as though he is personally affronted that the umpires dare give him out in such a fashion. God help us when Broad actually gets to make DRS decisions as a fielding captain.

The poor bowlers can’t keep bailing out the batsmen, both with the ball and the bat. With the quality of their bowlers and the regularity with which they get wickets, England should be winning Tests at a canter. The gap between the West Indies and the marquee South Africa series this summer is looking like a mighty good time for a certain England captain who shall remain nameless to resign if he doesn’t score a century soon. That said, Strauss has looked in fairly good order in this Test, but both of his dismissals make you think that whichever part of his brain makes the sensible shot selection decisions must have been crudely lobotomised over the winter.

England stand a good chance of winning this Test, previous records on this ground be damned. You know that the batting lineup that torched Australia and India over the last couple of years is under there somewhere, probably beneath a couple of layers of sweat and suncream, and for all England’s efforts to make the target unreachable by bowling no-balls and missing catches, 229 more runs is not all that far away. Let’s not forget that tomorrow is only Day 4 and this pitch is still good – it’d be an entirely different proposition if they were chasing 340 on Day 5.

Sri Lanka are a hard-working team, but the two Jayawardenes apart (Prasanna has impressed with his keeping), they have looked a very ordinary side in this Test. Herath bowled tidily, but got a lot of help from England’s batsmen, whereas the middle order (and especially Chandimal) still look to be in one-day mode mentally. A team with pretensions of being Number 1 in the world, as Sri Lanka should be, would have put this game well beyond England’s reach by now.

Graeme Swann has received a lot of pretty unfair stick of late. Yes, Monty has impressed since his return to the side, but it had almost been forgotten that Swann was the leading spinner. As was pointed out to us by Cricinfo, Swann actually had the best strike rate of any England bowler against Pakistan, and while he was outbowled by Monty there in some respects, 13 wickets in 3 matches was not a terrible return. He has bowled with much more brio in this Test, as his haul in the second innings indicated, and looks to be back to his form of a couple of years ago.

No ball: The DJ at Galle may have a more varied collection of annoying trumpet themes than his counterpart in Abu Dhabi did, but they’re still pretty tiresome. On Day 1, there was even a complaint made by the players as the music carried on while they were playing. Given that one of us is an MCC member, we consider the whole thing to be thoroughly inappropriate, although mostly because it wakes us up from our afternoon slumber beneath a copy of The Times.

It’s great to see that the ground, and indeed the fort that overlooks it, has been full throughout, albeit boosted by a healthy injection of England fans. There were worries before the match that the ticket prices could lead to a half full stadium, but it is pleasantly surprising to see a full subcontinental venue for a Test match.

Over.

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